Danny De Gracia: Let's Reclaim The HOV Lanes For All Vehicles - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

When I first moved to Hawaii in 2003, my average commute time from Waipahu to Downtown Honolulu during rush hour was manageably under 30 minutes under even in the worst of circumstances. Two decades later, I find myself spending an average of 80 minutes or more just to travel 23 miles.

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I can only imagine how much more aggravating the driving experience must be for people who live in Ewa Beach, Waianae or the more remote portions of the island. As I have said before, whether one drives a car, carpools or rides a bus, we are all equally stuck in traffic together.

And for me, the ultimate insult of Honolulu planning is to be stuck in traffic while an empty, unused, incomplete Honolulu rail car passes by overhead as part of a test run for the long-delayed system.

Last weekend, some out-of-town friends came to visit me for a social visit and brief a couple of representatives at the Hawaii State Capitol about the latest technologies in water generation. When they were done with the official part of their visit, they asked me if I could drive them from the Moana Surfrider hotel in Waikiki to the Dole Plantation in Wahiawa. I agreed, but told them we needed to leave early in order to have time to do all the other things they wanted to do.

“But it’s only about 26 minutes from here, right?” one of them asked me, drawing an instant smirk on my face.

“26 San Antonio minutes, 45 Hawaii minutes,” I corrected them. (They were incorrectly assuming, as one often does on the mainland, that one can average one mile of car travel per minute.)

But as all Oahu residents know, though traffic can pile up on even on weekends, the advantage is that when driving on H-1, we can use all lanes of traffic, including the high occupancy vehicle lane. This means that traffic can flow, somewhat quickly, because we aren’t artificially bottlenecking the freeway. And as many Oahu residents continue to suffer unbearable commutes during work days, perhaps there is a lesson to learn and an opportunity to be seized here.

Open The HOV Lanes To Everyone Until We Fix Traffic

Until we can find ways to get more cars off the road or stagger commutes so that everyone is not jumping on H-1 at the same time in the mornings and evenings, we should just get rid of the HOV lanes and allow anyone, at any time, to use all lanes of H-1. This means that you don’t have to spend 20 minutes driving from Waipahu to the airport, only to spend another hour waiting in the middle lane of H-1 to get to downtown.

Yeah, yeah, I can already hear the virtue signalers coming out of the woodwork in response to this idea. Person 1, from the academia: “The HOV lanes exist to encourage people to stop driving alone and carpool, which is better for the environment.” Well guess what? That ain’t working, because not all of us go to the same worksite, and the time it takes to drop off your buddy will make you late for work if you try it.

Many Oahu commuters are stuck in rush hour traffic, even as an empty Honolulu rail system train passes overhead on the H-1. Danny de Gracia/Civil Beat/2022

Person 2, from the Establishment: “We actually want traffic and streets in general to be inconvenient for those who use cars, because cars cause structural inequality, and we want to encourage people to use active transport by eliminating the convenience of an automobile.” Oh really? Do you want to walk or bike 43 miles, round trip, every day, to work in dress clothes and tropical weather? Or is that just for everyone except you?

And Gov. David Ige, with his useless “I recommend you consider telework” platitudes – when he himself has the power to implement for his government a mandatory telework policy to reduce traffic – is also not helping the Oahu nightmare commute or the environment as a whole. “I recommend you consider” was the same defeatist tagline they gave us during the part of Covid where we all decided to quit trying.

So let’s dispense with utopian visions of Oahu and get right to business. Open up the HOV lanes until our government sees fit to correctly restructure the infrastructure of Oahu so that convenient and quick transportation alternatives – not gimmicks meant to funnel money to contractors and consultants on a project that will never be complete – are available.

Some may say that to get rid of the HOV lanes, we would need to amend the Hawaii Revised Statutes. So amend them then – next session. In the meantime, get off your butts in the Executive Branch and use the constitutional, broad-reaching power of a department’s right to make rules and enforce rules (or not enforce rules) to allow everyone to use the HOV lanes to speed up traffic on H-1.

The fact that all lanes of traffic can be opened up to commuters during a “crisis” such as a major accident or state emergency tells me that the authority exists to let people use the HOV lanes. Well, we are in a crisis of traffic, and we might as well reclaim those extra lanes during work days since we don’t have any other options.

Combine this with changes to the University of Hawaii’s classes to include virtual options and remote testing, a robust telework policy for state and county government and more convenient public transit, and maybe we’ll get out from under this traffic problem.

Let me say it again. We can fix Oahu. We just need the right mindset.

Read this next:

Eric Stinton: How A High School In California Could Be A Model For Hawaii

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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.

Latest Comments (0)

I’m on those freeways daily. Even with HOV lanes, traffic is stop and go in ALL lanes. Freeing them up solves nothing.

Kmarsh625 · 4 months ago

The author has not done his research on what happens when more highway lanes are opened to vehicles. Those lanes quickly fill with traffic, the inevitable result of temporarily easing congestion until drivers rush in to take advantage of that fleeting condition. If rail were operating efficiently today along the planned 20-mile length, it would remove *some* commuters’ cars from the roads as they become rail riders, but the "void" created when they switched to rail would be quickly filled by other vehicles. Therein lies the project’s true purpose — to give commuters an ALTERNATIVE to sitting in traffic. They don’t have that choice today. Without policies that somehow restrict the timing and number of vehicles on Oahu’s constrained road network, traffic congestion is here to stay. Building a grade-separated commuting option made sense when Frank Fasi tried 30 years ago, and it’s equally sensible today. Failing to finish the flawed rail project is unthinkable.

DougCarlson · 4 months ago

Most people do not carpool because of home and work locations - just exactly how many people in Wahiawā that work in ʻĀina Haina have other people trying to get to the same destination? Same for other Point A-Point B pairs around the island.Also, if you have 4 lanes of traffic, and take one away for an HOV lane, you've taken 100% of the lanes and choked the traffic down into 75% of the lanes. That is going to slow down the average speed, which means more time for each vehicle on the freeways, and more pollutants emitted. Contrary to wishful thinking, carpool lanes actually increase air pollution. Only when the HOV lane is at 100% capacity does this even out, but then what is the point of having it under that condition?

IslandGuy · 4 months ago

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